Thursday 7 July 2016

My grandfather's exodus - part 4

The fourth in a series of blog entries in which my grandfather, Arieh Rabani (Lova Rabinovitch), tells his adventures walking from the Soviet Union to Israel (1927-1929). You'll find the first part here. In this part, Lova is in jail, without any money or any food, so he thinks up a nice trick for getting some food to eat. Little by little, he gets to know his jailers and fellow prisoners. But when the order comes to send him back to Russia, he loses his temper...

An interview recorded by my cousin, which I then transcribed and translated from Hebrew

Lova: Meanwhile, I had no money. Those who had arrived before me, and those who came with me, all of them had a bit of money. But I didn’t want to beg, so I had nothing to eat.

Kars, where Lova was sent from Duğur, old postcard
Those who had been there for some time, they let them earn some money by going out to work in the streets for the local government. And the men who came with me, the Jarzim from Caucasia, they had some money too. So what did I do? I asked one of the policemen to bring me some paper, a pencil and an eraser, and I told him if he has some time to sit down, then I’ll draw his portrait. And that’s it. And in exchange, he’ll bring me some food. And that’s how it really was. I drew a portrait of the policeman, and he brought me in exchange a pita bread and onions and some salty cheese. Not only that – he also told the other policemen. So they all came, and all asked me to make portraits of them, and soon they gave me so much food that I didn’t even no what to do with it all. They gave me michitot [unable to trace this word], and 20 pennies for a portrait. I took very little money. Whatever they gave me I took, I didn’t mind.

Kars, the citadel and old city, 1922
Until a time came when even an officer came, and he brought me a photograph of himself together with his wife. Only it isn’t the done thing there to show your wife to strangers. That’s how it always was there, they’re Muslims. So he took a piece of paper, cut out a square, and wrapped it around the photograph. That way I could only see him, and his wife remained shut inside.

Meanwhile, the police station had to move to a new building and we helped them move everything. And in the new station we stayed in a huge room, me along with some other people they had collected and arrested since my arrival. There were some Christian Georgians, who wanted to go to Paris. These were Mensheviks who had run away from the Bolsheviks1. And there was another man, a Russian. So what happened? We would lie down in this room, and from time to time we would go out to work. I had already started working for the local government, fencing in trees so the goats wouldn’t eat them, and planting new trees. They let me go to work. I had gotten to know them pretty well after drawing their portraits – we were good friends now. So they let me do all kinds of odd jobs. Until, after twenty days waiting, a reply finally came back from Ankara, to send me back to Russia.

An ornate building built in 1883, with an upper floor added in 1903.
In 1920, after Turksh revolutionaries captured Kars,
this building became the Town Hall,
probably where Lova came to see Tsakh Komtsar
Now, in the town hall, I knew an engineer, the city engineer, who had earned his degree in Kharkov, in Russia, and knew how to speak Russian. He’s the one who had recommended me for work there, all kinds of odd jobs out of doors.

They had a mayor there, his name was Tsakh Komtsar. When the reply came that they have to send me back to Russia, I went to see Tsakh Komtsar and I said to him, “To Russia – alive – you cannot send me. Kill me, and send what’s left.” And I was so annoyed that I grabbed his desk, lifted it – I was a healthy lad – and dropped it back down on the floor with a “bang”, nearly sending his writing implements and all of his papers flying on the floor.

Just then, the city engineer suddenly came in, by complete chance, and sees me going wild. “What happened?” he asks.

So I told him, “They want to send me back to Russia.”

So he spoke to them, and I said, “Send me anywhere you like, anywhere in the world, I don’t care where. As long as it isn’t Russia.”

He spoke to them. And twenty days later an answer came, to send me into exile to Sebinkarahisar.

Sebinkarahisar, where Lova was exiled

Now, Sebinkarahisar is far away in the mountains. I was to go into exile for five years. After living there for five years, I could go and live anywhere I wanted in Turkey. I’d be a Turkish citizen. Fine.

Among those who were there with me, three of the Jarzim, the Muslims for Caucasia, were sent into exile with me, and a Georgian too. As for the Christians, the Mensheviks, they had to travel to Istanbul, and from there to France.

Along the way we met another man who had stolen the border, a Russian by the name of Malkanin, who had been living in America for 14 years, when he heard that in Russia they had a revolution, and they’re all brothers now, and all is good there. So he sold his farm, and arrived in Russia with $14,000, and started a farm there. But the Bolsheviks very quickly decided that he was a Kulak (a rich landowner), what they call in Russia a fist, a Burzhui, and they threw him into jail. So he started begging. He says, “What do you want from me? I heard about the revolution, and I came, all I wanted was to be your brother.” So then he says, “Let me go to live in Caucasia, I used to live there when I was young.” And when he managed to come to Caucasia, he crossed the Turkish border and ran away from there.

Bolshevik propaganda poster: “Did you volunteer?”
by Dmitry Moor, 1920

So they sent him into exile together with the rest of us. As for me, I spent half a year in Sebinkarahisar. Winter had come, a cold winter. Down in the valley it was green, but we were up on the hills, where it was snowy and cold. I waited for better weather. I wanted to run away, but not in the freezing weather and snow. Meanwhile, for the half-a-year that I was there, I did all different kinds of work. There’s a lot to tell, but I don’t want to talk about that now, because it’s a very long story.

One bright day about half a year later... Actually not one bright day. One dark evening about half a year later, I was on my way out. But the moon rose early, so I went back into the room where I lived together with the others. The next evening I set out earlier, before the moon rose, and started walking, according to my map and my compass, always South, South, South.

Lova’s itinerary through Turkey
Continued in part 5

1Probably to join Noe Zhordania in the Menshevik-dominated Government of the Democratic Republic of Georgia in Exile, in Leuville-sur-Orge.

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